BITA


Business/IT Alignment is all about making sure that management decisions related to IT are grounded in solid, identifiable business strategies and priorities.  A BITA engagement typically involves working with organizations to assist management with the data, information and assessments required for sound management decisions.  The article attached below from Michael McLaughin at RainToday suggests that this is the one, single critical service that EVERY professional services company should offer to their clients.

Sometimes in the quest for solid, long-term project revenue, professional services firms can lose focus on the value of quick, strategic assessments to clients. It is these assessments that help clients identify high priority challenges and provide some shape to move forward.  Many client organizations are faced with multiple symptoms of issues that are simply overwhelming to management.  Often there are interdependencies that make it difficult to separate one issue from another so that they can be addressed.  The uncertainty of what to address can prevent organizations from ever getting to the point of discussing how to successfully do it.  The best investment senior management can make before confirming any initiative or project, is to engage a knowledgeable, independent consultant to examine the situation and provide an assessment of what the core issues are, what the implications are (risks/benefits) and recommendations on a strategy to move forward. If this is done before projects are authorized, it will save considerable project planning time and the potential of significant re-work once the project becomes active.  It is not lost investment: it is shifting investment to the front end of an engagement before resources are committed at the back end.  I would also suggest that if more organizations grasped this one small truth, management decisions generally – whether projects or operations –  would have a much higher success probability.

The One Service Every Consultant Should Offer – RainToday.

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 Well it’s officially the New Year and along with well-intentioned but insanely optimistic personal resolutions, we are also treated to a vast list of predictions for the coming year.  Typically, these predictions focus on news, disasters, sports, celebrities or politics. I’ve been waiting for some industry specific oracles, but generally the most that appears from the IT gurus is focused on technology tools and toys. I don’t have any earth shattering personal resolutions to share this year, since they are all the same as last year.  I do, however, feel compelled to share my predictions about the future of the IT industry as a whole – not technology and tools, but demand, careers and the evolving role of IT in society as a whole. 

 Information Technology is changing, and these changes are beginning to accelerate as society responds to economic and social pressures.  Here are my predictions for trends we will start to see over the coming year in the IT industry:

 

We will see a DECREASE in…

We will see an INCREASE in…

1. 

RFPs issued for major IT projects

RFRs for specific project roles with specialized skills/expertise.

2.

 

Demand for network/server staff roles

Contracted network/server/infrastructure services

3. 

CIO/VP IT roles at executive level

IT Director/Manager roles at operational level

4. 

Enterprise Architecture and Technology Architecture within organizations

Business Architecture and Information Architecture within organizations

5. 

Trying to view IT as a ‘partner’ with business

Viewing IT as an utility or contracted service

6. 

Maintaining IT as a separate operational unit and cost centre within the enterprise

Absorbing business-focused IT expertise into business units and supplementing with external contractors

7.

Custom application development by major organizations

Identifying and adapting packaged solutions to meet key business requirements

8.

Maintaining IT resources and developers for key business applications

Contracting with external providers for application hosting and maintenance

9.

Vendor controlled and defined products

Client controlled agreements defined by service levels

10.

Considering IT as a distinct, specialized industry and profession

Fragmentation of existing array of IT functions into specialized, distinct types of services

 
So these are my predictions.  Nothing earth shattering, I think, but not everyone will be comfortable with some of the direction stated here.  Over the coming months, I’ll take each of these items and expand on it in my regular blog, to provide some context for the observations and hopefully generate some discussion.  As the year progresses, we’ll see how close I am in each of these predictions!

Earlier this month I had the privilege of presenting at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) conference in Winnipeg on the topic of Business/IT Alignment. I wanted to focus the presentation on a topic that was relevant to business analysts, so the title was: Strategic Business Analysis: An Essential Skill for Business/IT Alignment. As I prepared the presentation and reviewed the key points from the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK), I was struck – again – at how limited our interpretation of business analysis is within the work environment and how comprehensive the application of business analysis could be based on BABOK. So often, we view BA simply as a required sub-activity within another project, rather than an activity that has value in its own right. To be fair, even the assumed association as a part of project work is something to rejoice over, given that only a few years ago most organizations viewed business analysis work as ‘optional’. We probably all remember when the clients just assumed that the business knowledge required for the project work would just be discovered or extracted somewhere along the line by the project team. Project managers (usually because they ended up responsible for this activity) were likely the first to realize that this ‘discovery’ process required a different set of skills from the technical expertise of the project team, and from the management and coordination skills of the PM. Most project teams now automatically include at least one BA role to work with the business, and have seen project success improve as a result. Even this, however, is a limited role and only scratching the surface of the true value that a BA can provide to an organization. Business Analysis is more than just providing requirements to a technical team, or advising on implementation changes to the business users. It is more than just an input to attain a project outcome. Properly understood, business analysis can become a strategic activity to improve not only project success, but provide decision support to management and executives in strategic and operational planning. To do this, ‘Business Analysis’ does not need to change or mature – it is ready to take this on now, with a mature best practice model, internationally recognized standards and professional certification. Business attitudes, however, need to mature to recognize the value that sound business analysis can contribute – not just within the limited operational scope of a project, but also at a corporate level to support enterprise business decisions.

View/Download IIBA Presentation:  Adnams BITA IIBA Nov 3

Another fascinating question from one of my strategy network forums: What is a company’s core competency? It sounds easy enough, but from some of the responses provided, it seems clear to me that there’s a lot of confusion around what a company’s core competency is, let alone how to go about identifying it!

This could be tremendously detailed and complex, but it sounds like the colleague posing the question is looking for a basic answer to a basic question: how does a company identify what its core competency is? If a company only does one thing, then it’s pretty easy, but as organizations are growing they often take on many different activities, and can lose sight of what they started out to do. Often some of these ‘extra’ activities are necessary in the early days to support the key activity, but over time, as practices, structure and expectations grow around these activities, the ‘extras’  take on a life of their own. I could probably write pages on this tangent alone, but here’s my simple answer to the basic question:

A company’s core competency is whatever it is that they do that no other company can do the same way, and that can’t be outsourced to anyone else. (Some would add that there should be a customer/client demand for the product or service as well, but there’s also the argument that if you have a unique product/service, you can always create a market!)

I’ve told clients and colleagues in the past: if you’re doing something that someone else can do better, faster or cheaper, then get out of that business – that’s not your core competency, no matter how much you may like to do that or how long you’ve been doing it. Once a company knows what it exists for and clearly understands their core competency, making strategic decisions becomes a much easier activity!

What about your company – does this simple rule apply and if not, how would you define your organization’s core competency?

A question was raised recently in a professional forum that I thought deserved some further discussion.  The question involved how to get executive sponsors to use “social media” for communications, and whether anyone had quantifiable data to assist with this concept.  Although it was an interesting question,  I suspect from the lack of responses that there aren’t any clear answers immediately available and that others may be posing the same question for the same reasons.

From my perspective, however, there is a fundamental disconnect between the role and function of ‘social’ technologies versus the type of service that it enables. To me, the disconnect is aptly illustrated by the confusing use of the terms ‘social media’ and ‘social networking’ – which I believe to be two different, but related concepts. 

The question would fall into what I would define as the ‘social networking’ category. If I may paraphrase: How can you use new forms of communications provided by social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. as part of your communications strategy and plan with executive sponsors?  The answer, as simplistic as it sounds, is that these channels are simply extensions of any normal communications plan, and need to be considered in the same light.  If the constituency with whom you are dealing uses these services, then there may be an opportunity to integrate those into your communications, but that’s a big IF. For the most part, most business-focused social networking activity would take place via professional-level services such as LinkedIn, with Twitter or Facebook perceived as primarily personal/recreational services. None of these, however, are designed for the type of business communications that the question considers.  Although it would be possible to create a FB page or a LinkedIn group specific to a given project, and limit access to that information to only approved members, it is much more challenging to get executives to change their habits to use it.

We can see examples of this with the challenges many companies have had introducing collaboration software (eg. Sharepoint) into their environments – even though everyone thinks its a good idea, getting everyone to use it is another matter!  If organizations have this level of difficulty getting participation within a relatively controlled workgroup (ie. employees), I don’t think there’s much chance of achieving compliance with a group of independent, external clients – unless it’s something they are already doing.

If you want to start using this type of communication technology within a business, then initially you may want to pursue social media, which in my definition is focused on promoting, marketing and branding your business/services to constituents through the use of social networking technologies.  As these technologies mature and become more pervasive in their use within business, then gradually there will be more uptake at a senior level.  For now, though, the ‘closed’ two-way communication that would be appropriate for executive clients relating to specific work does not fit into the ‘open’, one-way communications that is typical of social networking and social media interactions.

I’ve been observing and participating in various discussions around  ‘strategic alignment’.  I have to conclude, as so many others have as well, that this term is used loosely and frequently, but seldom with any real ‘strategy’ or ‘alignment’ coming into play. Part of the problem is the inherent disconnect between traditional organizational practices around promotions, (which effectively ensure that business unit boundaries are maintained) and recognition of the broader corporate/enterprise agenda that these business units exist to support. One of the other challenges to true ‘strategic alignment’, however, is the overriding focus on short term financial performance. In economically challenging times (as now) the short term revenue/expense drivers will ALWAYS trump strategic direction. Although I can understand the mindset – ‘What good is long term strategy if you don’t have short term financial viability?’ – one could also argue that without a clear understanding of WHY the business exists and WHAT it needs to do to continue to be relevant, its financial viability is limited and temporary.

The question is: Do we as consultants and strategists contribute to the status quo in order to remain financially viable ourselves, or do we become activists for change with our clients to move them up the ‘strategy’ maturity model?

It’s time to move on from business/IT alignment to a more coherent enterprise. -John Gøtze

I found this quote from the recent EA Conference in Toronto rather interesting, and thought I should do a little research into it. Unfortunately, it is presented in the conference notes in a stream of ‘general comments’ and without context, which makes it difficult to interpret accurately. The source, John Gøtze, is the International President of the Association of Enterprise Architects, and he is highly credentialed and respected in the field.

It didn’t take long to discover two interesting points:
• Gøtze has a separate web-site and blog called Coherency Management
• Gøtze has just published and is actively promoting his new book called – you guessed it – Coherency Management.

[Just a little aside…look at the Winnipeg connection on the book website: “We will use the coherencymanagement.org website not just to promote the book, but also to be a platform for continued dialogues about coherency management and for publishing further studies. We’re especially interested in relevant case studies, and have published one such: Neil Kemp’s interesting case study about Winnipeg Fleet Management.” ]

Fair enough – Gøtze is marketing a new product and trying to distinguish it from other ideas and products at a professional conference by introducing new terminology. One might question whether it’s totally appropriate for the President of a professional organization to do so at an international conference of that association. In those circumstances, it can be difficult to separate the personal agenda from the official role, but the truth is, it happens all the time. (Hmm…probably another future blog here on governance and role separation…).

It is well known – and broadly supported – that a key purpose and mandate of EA is to contribute to the alignment of business and IT. The intention of EA, as first developed by Zachman, was clearly to provide a framework for addressing the growing gap between business needs and direction, and the black box involvement that had become technology services. This revolutionary perspective called for IT to consider business services and programs as the guide to technology services and programs. Well intentioned, but perhaps because it started with the IT focus, EA has remained firmly fixed within our culture as an IT activity. Gøtze comments on this, stating that “the EA profession is mired in a technology paradigm that grossly undersells its capability to bring coherence to the entire business.” There’s that term again: ‘coherence’. So what does Gøtze mean by ‘coherence’ and how is he defining it? Is this something fundamentally new, or just a new buzz-word to throw into the EA/IT jargon to spice it up a little?

There’s a detailed definition on the Coherency Management website, but it seems that the coherency issue revolves around what we have traditionally referred to as Knowledge Management and Business Intelligence. Gøtze observes that business is currently in a period of ‘incoherency’ due to information overload: “This period of incoherency starts with the recognition that we simply have too much information to process. One might say that that the unintended plague of the information age is …information. Not information in and of itself, but rather, incoherent information.” In his definition ‘Coherency Management’ is intended to architect order and structure around the definition of, and use of, business information.

So how does this relate to business/IT alignment? I’m still not sure but we can take some guesses. Business/IT alignment is the recurring priority for business executives in multi-year surveys and is not going to go away. One element within the concept of alignment is information management, which is also a pressing business driver for change. EA can address a small area of IM, by developing and standardizing data/information architecture, but without the context of business architecture, technology architecture and application architecture, this will do little to address the KM/BI issues. Although I admire Gøtze for trying to come up with a new way to encapsulate the issues around enterprise information, I’m not sure that introducing new terminology is the way to do it, and I’m having a difficult time seeing how ‘coherency’ replaces ‘alignment’. Whether or not an organization practices ‘Coherency Management’, there will continue to be a need for Business/IT Alignment.

Note: Quotes from John Gøtze web site: http://coherencymanagement.org/coherency-management/

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